Zim cricket shows true grit

2010-02-17 00:00

I HAVE to admit that I had a number of reservations about Zimbabwe Cricket’s inaugural Stanbic 20/20 domestic competition.

After playing in that country for a few years (even before the mass exodus of players) I found it hard to believe that there were actually still enough players left in the country to make up the five franchises — let alone any sponsors prepared to part with their money.

Since arriving in Harare last Thursday, I have been surprised, to say the least, with what’s been achieved by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union in a very short space of time.

In pulling off its very first domestic 20/20 competition, former Zimbabwean captain, now convenor of selectors, Alistair Campbell, has shown just how committed he is to getting Zimbabwe cricket back on the map. Many would have said he’s a fool to try, myself included.

There were umpteen reasons for this tournament to fail. The fact that the country is in financial ruin combined with the fact that the Zimbabwe Cricket Union has a history of greed, nepotism and corruption are just two of them.

Yet despite some rather intimidating obstacles along the way, Campbell and his team appear to have got it together. They have secured television rights and generous sponsors and have contracted players and coaches for all the franchises. In so doing they have injected excitement back into cricket in their country. Local Zimbabweans share this feeling of optimism, which is incredible considering their country is in such dire straits.

In Zimbabwe, a fair measure of resourcefulness is required just to manage from day to day.

To succeed requires that same resourcefulness in generous measure — and then some. Little did I know that this very resourcefulness would be tested just three minutes before the televised start of the first match on Friday.

With electricity in short supply and power failures commonplace, one of the technicians plugged in the generator without realising that they were still plugged into the national grid. The resultant surge blew up the main vision-mixing desk in the outside broadcast van.

The game had to start without the much anticipated TV coverage, while everything was being done behind the scenes to get things up and running as soon as possible. A miraculous turn of events saw technicians racing to the offices of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation where an unused television studio was located.

Armed with wire cutters and screwdrivers technicians found the vital part and within just a few hours the OB van was up and running again and television coverage could begin.

The fact that Campbell and his team have achieved so much with such limited resources should be enough to give all of us here in South Africa a wake-up call.

Campbell has put into place not just this tournament, but also the CEOs in all regions and coaches responsible for bringing their players through the system.

He recognises that it is vital that growth comes from the bottom up, a concept we still appear to be grappling with.

So many of our franchises, Inland included, are in a healthy position, especially when compared to Zimbabwe.

They have access to Cricket South Africa, its finance and all its development programmes. With all of this at their disposal, there are still excuses for lack of progress and poor development.

Zimbabwe’s cricketers have been through tough times, but Campbell and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union are using all their resourcefulness to get them back on track.

By comparison we are spoilt and could learn much from our less fortunate neighbours.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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